I kept waiting for a moment during the government shutdown to write down some thoughts on the GOP, but as with each run-up of brinksmanship, events seemed at once to be moving too quickly and too slowly to know when to turn away (C-Span is my mistress now, and she's a cruel one). But I stand by what I said as the debacle began that Tuesday: this last brinksmanship play was the Waterloo of the Republican Party as we know it, and in the aftermath, we are seeing what it looks like when one political party falls apart.
It's edgy, I know, and prognostication is a dicey business, but in these times when yesterday's news is maybe as far back as we try to recall, it's worth remembering how we got here, and why the GOP disintegration is not a new story but an old one, a five year saga (if one starts with the failures of the Bush presidency), or 20 years (if we go back to Newt Gingrich), or 30 - if we start with Ronald Reagan's ascendancy as the pinnacle where the downhill roll starts. The point is, from those times to this, we are watching a thing that's dying. And it's worth considering why, and what's bad and what could, ultimately, be good about it.
First, we're here because Congress didn't pass a budget and follow up with Appropriations bills, as per their normal (up until the nineties) approach to governing. How'd that happen? Well, partly because Senate Republicans blocked attempts at budget reconciliation, partly because the House, saddled with Paul Ryan's disastrous, unrealistic budget plan, could not gather the ability to fit various department appropriations into the low budgets, without significant pushback from within the Republican majority, never mind the staunch opposition of Democrats.
Second, we got here because conservatives, who have guven over to simply loathing everything about President Obama, want to eviscerate the Affordable Care Act. Thus they adopted the curious pose that "all they wanted" was some sort of "Obamacare" element in any Continuing Resolution. The fact that they went from defunding to a one year delay, to simply asking for a conference, proved a willingness to "compromise", they said. Most everyone saw that this new definition of "compromise" was probably unworkable, and so Republicans replayed, almost line for line, the results of 1995, when the shutdown also redounded to their detriment.
Perhaps nothing was quite so ludicrous as, a wekk into the shutdown, when John Boehner floated the idea od a "super committee" to sit down, work out a CR, a debt deal and some significant spending relief. Never mind the lack of a discussion of taxes; this proposal was amost identical to what happened in the fall and winter of 2012, when the "fiscal cliff" resulted in, yes, a super committee... which failed to come to any sort of agreement. And what was the result of that failure. The deep cuts known as "the sequester" a trigger mechanism meant to force a deal because the cuts were so deep and painful no one would want to see them enacted. Naturally, here we are, living with sequester cuts, which have indeed proved painful.
And how did we wind up at a fiscal cliff? Well, that's been the hallmark of the Obama years, a string of last minute deals and hastily brokered extensions, because nearly all ability to negotiate or compromise has broken down... largely becuase of a growing feeling among conservatives that anything less than their most extreme position is an unforgivable capitulation to The Left.This is especially damaging to the House where, after years of governing through brokered deals and bupartisan votes on key pieces of legislation, informal rules now insist, for both sides, that all members must vote as a bloc. And that, as it turns out, favors a longtime establishment machine pol like Nancy Pelosi, who cajoles, controls, and carefully steers her Democrats to unanimity.
Republicans can't find anything like that unanimity because, at this point, there is almost literaly no animating policy toawrds governing in the party. The opposition to ACA is an obvious example - it's not as if Republicans offer up alternative healthcare policy: they simply oppose what liberlas have passed. To this day there is no coherent Republican proposal on health policy, on tax policy, on budgeting, immigration or a laundry list of issues that could be resolved if two sides simply had a way to look at opposing ideas and find common ground. That's because today's conservatism isn't about ideas. It's about the fight, the anger, the hatred, the labeling and the disdain. The right is rewarding rabble rousers, loudmouths and hotheads who go off half-cocked, throw out ahost of baseless accusations and dare anyone to challenge them with facts. They don't need facts. They need emotion, primarily anger.
We're long past the point where Republicans can simply "wake up" and find some good sense; Watch a congressional hearing, especially from the House. Listen to talk radio. Check out a conservative blog. Don't believe me, look for yourself. There is no longer any discussion of ideas. It's just rage. I've had more than one conversation this past month with liberal friends and family convinced that we have to worry about Republicans in the next Presidental election, because, you know, as crazy as they've been, they could nominate Chris Christie, pull themselves together and be hard to beat. And I keep saying: Chris Christie can't win their primaries. Not now. And if he could... then we'd have all we need to beat him, because he'd have to sound as conservative as their base to get there.
Republicans couldn't win the shutdown battle not because of tactics, or numbers, but because what they were doing literally made no sense. The only thing that could have happened differently was for John Boehner to find Nancy Pelosi, craft a bill that could get mostly Democrats and a modest number of Republicans, pass the CR and the debt ceiling extension and start neotiating further compromises. And literally... that's what happened. It just happened in the Senate.
Operationally, the House Republicans have abdicated governing. Either major deals will be bipartisan, or nothing will happen. That, in turn, will force another scorched earth round of primaries on the right. It's cler that even some of the most conservative GOP Reps and Senators, and certainly anyone labeled "RINO" will face a primary. And some, maybe not all, bbut definitely some, will, as with the last election, be so far off the edge that voters will take a lawn chair rather than the extreme. Except in distrcts where the extremes are really so far gone that any Hannity sound alike can win. And the right wil drift further off the edge.
The Democrats cannot be everyone's party, and the collapse of Republicans will be the test. Will a well off, well educated set of socially liberal professionals control the party;s destiny, or will the more everyday concerns of the working class and working poor become more central. This is not a theoretical, or abstract, discussion. Democrats have lived an uneasy truce vetween the working class and upscale educated professionals whose interests do not, in fact, align - most obviously on taxation and spending policies, but even in the places where practical needs meet well meaning social liberal philosophy. Places like education. Immigration policy. Urban renewal and affordable housing, never mind community health.
The death of the right would mean a fundamental realignment of two sides. We've lived this before, and we can go through it again, even if it's messy. No doubt some elements of the Republican Party will try to salvage a broken beast. No doubt some progressives will remain caught up in arguing the extremes. But nationally, Republicans have fallen apart. There is no longer leadership, an approach to governing, a set of policies to accomplish understandable, well supported goals. These are the basic elements of why we organize, why we look for candidates, how we get the work done. Republicans had a chance - a small one - to regroup before the government shutdown wrecked them, a chance to draw lines, reestablish a center, put down some policy markers that made sense and offered a way forward. None of that happened. Because it can't happen. Because this is the end. And once we face the ending, we can move on to starting something else.